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Copyright Sushi Das 2012. All rights reserved.

. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Copyright Sushi Das 2012. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Sushi Das is an award-winning British-Australian journalist of Indian origin who has worked at The Age newspaper for seventeen years. She currently holds the position of opinion editor. Educated and raised in London, she migrated to Australia in 1991 and began her career as a news reporter at Australian Associated Press. Her work has been recognised with two Melbourne Press Club Quill awards, including Best Columnist (2006).

Copyright Sushi Das 2012. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

A Bantam book Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney NSW 2060 www.randomhouse.com.au First published by Bantam in 2012 Copyright Sushi Das 2012 The moral right of the author has been asserted. Text from Erotic Art of the East by Philip Rawson Piers Rawson/Estate of Philip S. Rawson reproduced with permission of Piers Rawson Lyrics from Lookin After No. 1 by Bob Geldof reproduced with permission of Mushroom Music on behalf of Mute Song Lyrics from Free Bird: words and music by Ronnie Van Zant / Allen Collins Universal Duchess Music Corp/EMI Longitude Music. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Reprinted with permission All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian Copyright Act 1968), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia. Addresses for companies within the Random House Group can be found at www.randomhouse.com.au/offices National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry Das, Sushi Deranged marriage / Sushi Das ISBN 9781742751566 (pbk) Das, Sushi Women, Anglo-IndianBiography Arranged marriage 305.48891411092 Cover art and design Design by Committee Internal typesetting and design by Midland Typesetters, Australia Printed in Australia by Griffi n Press, an accredited ISO AS/NZS 14001:2004 Environmental Management System printer Random House Australia uses papers that are natural, renewable and recyclable products and made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The logging and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

Copyright Sushi Das 2012. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Contents
Authors Note Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Sources Acknowledgments
v

vii 1 Escape Plan A Passage to England Starving in a Sari Nignog Fraternising with Undesirable Elements Searching for a Suitable Boy Seeing the Doctor Men, Women and Wombs A Match at Last! An Arranged Marriage The Ice Age Paradise Road Sparse End of the World They Told Me So The Triumph of Hope over Experience In the Land of the Free 5 21 45 55 77 101 115 133 153 175 191 205 221 241 261 273 283 285

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Authors Note
Some names and a few other details have been changed to protect peoples privacy. The sources for this book include my diaries, interviews with family members, audio tapes, letters and, of course, fallible memory.

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For Lotus

Copyright Sushi Das 2012. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Prologue

o you know what your fathers nickname was when he was a schoolboy? asked Mum in Punjabi the language she always used when maximum impact was required. They called him the Saint, she said, putting down her knitting and leaning forward. And do you know why they called him the Saint? Mmm? Well, if you stop chewing that revolting bubblegum and sit down, Ill tell you. I did as I was told. Your father was about eight or nine years old when a boy in his class did something bad. Stole a few coins from another boy something like that. The whole class knew who the rascal was. Anyway, when the teacher discovered there was a thief among his pupils, he was determined to catch him and punish him. He gathered the boys around and asked, Who stole the money? But nobody owned up. He asked again, but still nobody owned up. So then the teacher said, I am going to ask you one more time. If the culprit admits his crime, he will be punished as he knows he deserves to be. If he does not, I will punish the entire class. And it will be a caning the likes of which you have never seen before. You will remember it for the rest of your lives. And trust me, the punishment I give you will be nothing compared to the beating the culprit will get from his own classmates after my back is turned. Mum paused and resumed her knitting. She always knew when to pause.

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DERANGED MARRIAGE

What happened? I asked, chewing my gum with ferocious urgency. Well, the boys were trembling with fear, hoping the rascal would own up. But he didnt. So your father stepped forward and owned up to a crime he didnt do. I stopped chewing suddenly, eyes fi xed on Mum. He made a sacrifice for others, she continued. That is the kind of man your father is. He took the punishment to save the rest of the class, and from that day on they called him the Saint. Your father is a good man, a very good man. I sat still for a moment, thinking through the ramifications and implications of such gallantry. It didnt occur to me to ask how she came to know this story. So did he get caned? I asked. No. The teacher made him do the chicken for an hour instead. Seeing the bewildered look on my face, she explained the punishment. The chicken was a punishment they used to give in Indian schools. You bring your arms around from behind, put them through your legs, squat down and hold your ear lobes. Not easy. They do it to humiliate you. I immediately stood up and assumed the pose that Mum had described, but the burning strain on my thigh and shoulder muscles was unbearable, not to mention the difficulty of keeping balance. Ikeeled over after just five seconds and lay sprawled on the floor, laughing and groaning. You may laugh, young girl, said Mum, but remember, your father made a sacrifice, like so many sacrifices he makes for this family. He was just a boy and he held that pose for one hour in the blazing heat because, inside him, there is strength. Inside him, there is wisdom. He is a decent man, a man of good character,
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Prol ogue

and I am very lucky that my parents found me such a fine man to marry. Now, go and spit out that disgusting bubblegum. All day long youre chomping and grinding that stuff you look like a goat. Youre twelve years old its about time you started behaving like a young lady. One day your father and I will have to find you a good man to marry. And, trust me, no man is going to accept a girl who chews gum like a goat.

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CHAPTER 1

Escape Plan
At sixteen, you still think you can escape your father. You arent listening to his voice speaking through your mouth, you dont see how your gestures already mirror his; you dont see him in the way you hold your body, in the way you sign your name. You dont hear his whisper in your blood. Salman Rushdie, East, West

burgled my parents house when I was fourteen. It was an inside job, by which I mean I didnt need to break in. It was wickedly late when I tiptoed out of my bedroom and down the stairs, holding my breath as I took each step, careful not to wake the household. Moonlight shone through the big arched window in the hall, lighting up the carpeted stairs that, obligingly, silenced my footfalls. I know there was a big round moon in the sky because earlier that evening Mum had performed her special husband-worship ceremony the one she did every autumn on the night of a full moon.
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DERANGED MARRIAGE

I crept into the dining room with Pink Panther stealth, closed the door behind me and switched on a lamp. A handwritten cardboard sign on the dining table shouted: NO ENGLISH PLEASE! a valiant but largely unsuccessful attempt by my dad to keep his three children in touch with his mother-tongue, Punjabi. I knelt down and quietly opened the wooden cabinet where he kept his important things, and there they were rows of neatly ordered photo albums. Photography was his hobby, and when he wasnt taking close-up shots of flower stamens in parks and gardens, he was taking photos of us kids. Itook out the oldest album, the one with the black and green paisley cover and a soft, silky tassel on the spine, and opened it, carefully turning over the gossamer-thin lining paper between each page to reveal the black and white photos he had carefully mounted. My pulse quickened. I knew which ones I was looking for: me as a baby sitting with my mum on the grass in a park; my handsome young dad lying on his back holding me aloft; me and my sister, aged five and three, standing with open umbrellas in the garden; me and my sister, slightly older, grinning proudly, sitting next to our baby brother. I removed the photos, dropped them into the breast pocket of my pyjamas, and crept back up the stairs to the darkness of my bedroom. Back in my still slightly warm bed I slid the photos under my pillow, the place where Iusually kept a tight, anxious fist when I slept. I could hear the soft, regular in-and-out breaths of my sister, Vin, asleep in the other bed. Itook a few deep breaths to slow my heartbeat to the rhythm of her breathing. Iliked sharing a bedroom with her. We grew up in each others pockets: sneaking sugar sandwiches to bed, nattering endlessly into the night, sniggering behind our hands and harrumphing at the grown-ups.
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Es ca pe Pl a n

She had a round, babyish face, slightly gappy teeth and two black, pliable plaits that made for excellent reins when she was the horse and I the cowgirl. She had this way of rolling her eyes that gave her an air of relaxed confidence, as if tomorrow didnt matter. Ialways called her Vin. Mum and Dad used her full name, Vanita. Though she was younger than me by a couple of years, she behaved as if she was older. Where my emotions were fierce, hers were restrained; where my tone of voice was shrill, hers was sage. Generally speaking, I felt I could influence her that I simply had to say, I was born before you, so I know more than you, and she would acquiesce. But sometimes I could tell by the way she pressed her lips together and drew in a long, slow breath that privately she didnt put much store in whatever it was I had said. Still, I could work out who I was because she was my yardstick. Igrew up thinking of us, essentially, as one person. Myopinion was her opinion. Her life was my life. My secrets were her secrets. Except one. I never told her about the little suitcase. A dark brown case, just 40 by 10 inches, with two silvery clasps that snapped shut with a satisfactory click. It had been my dads at some stage. Idont remember how it came to belong to me. Inside the lid I had painted in red letters the word SIOUX, because when youre a fourteen-year-old kid and you plan to run away from home, its always a good idea to change your name to something daft. I detested Sushila, my full name, because mumbled or spoken fast it sounded like Sheila, an even worse name. At school, half the teachers called me Sushilla (so that it rhymed with killer), presumably because they didnt know how to pronounce a foreign name. Its a terrible name to say if you have a lisp: Thootheela. Even worse when youre drunk: Shoosheela. Loosely translated, it
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DERANGED MARRIAGE

means good conduct or good character, but at home everyone called me Neelum (blue sapphire). According to the story my mum tells, my maternal grandfather named me Sushila, even though my dad preferred Neelum. So Sushila became my official name and Neelum my unofficial home name. At least officially Iwas a person of good character. I considered changing my name to Sue, but that was obviously a Western name, and with my black hair and brown face, I looked nothing like a Westerner. Ihad been reading about Sioux Indians. Perfect. It still sounded like Sue, but I would spell it Sioux, and if anyone asked, I would just say I had a bit of Red Indian in me. Icould be an Indian, just a different kind of Indian the type that didnt have to have an arranged marriage. The next day, I waited till Vin was out of the bedroom before I got down on my hands and knees and reached under my bed for the little brown suitcase. Id been packing it for months. So far I had a toothbrush, a few spare clothes, a pen, sanitary pads and a ten pound note. Not much, but it was a start. I took the stolen photos from under my pillow and looked at them. Quickly, I slid them between the folds of a T-shirt in the case, clicked it shut and pushed it as far under my bed as I could. From under a pile of books on my desk I pulled out my diary to make my daily entry, without mentioning the theft. The year was 1979. Iwas a fastidious chronicler of daily events, recording in minute and irrelevant detail the dull happenings of each day: Had to help Dad paint the skirting boards today. White gloss. Mum made aloo gobi for dinner again. YUK! God, my life is humdrum, cant wait to get back to school again, then I wont have to help Dad decorate the house. Stripping wallpaper from the back room tomorrow (using soapy water and scraper, not blow torch thats only for painted wood).
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Es ca pe Pl a n

I started keeping a diary in 1977 at the age of twelve and stuck with it for probably far too many years. Dad had mixed feelings. Never write anything in your diary that you wouldnt like to have read out in a court of law, he warned. Ihave no idea what he thought I was writing, but clearly he had no faith in my judgment. Ithink he worried I would write something that might inadvertently bring shame upon the family. Thats why I never wrote anything about running away. Sometimes I wrote in code. It was not unusual for Vin to see me furiously scribbling hieroglyphics late into the night as I recorded the latest development in my parents single-minded goal to find me a suitable boy to marry. I knew through gradual family osmosis that my parents expected me to have an arranged marriage. It didnt matter that they had migrated to Britain in the 1960s, or that I, as well as Vin and our brother Raja, had received an entirely Eurocentric education. Indeed, Western culture was the wallpaper for us, and not the type you can simply strip away, although my parents did try. As far as they were concerned, we were Indian and arranged marriages were the Indian way, regardless of where in the world we lived. Diaspora duty. As long as an arranged marriage was either being planned ortaking place, the world was as it should be. My parents had it all sorted: I would finish my school studies; a respectable Indian boy, educated to a level slightly above me, would be found, probably from Britain, but possibly from India; and I would marry in my early twenties. Their ideal suitable boy, like the ideal suitable boy sought by millions of Indian parents in Britain, America, Australia and anywhere else Indians lived, was, of course, a medical doctor. There would be a splendid Indian wedding, probably in the local community hall, after which I would re-enact a scene from a
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DERANGED MARRIAGE

Bollywood movie I would tearfully wave goodbye to my parents in my red wedding sari, laden with twenty-four-carat gold jewellery, and head for my husbands house, where I would live for the rest of my life, bearing healthy sons and dutifully looking after my husband and his ageing parents. There was only one slight hitch: nobody asked me if this was what I wanted. I was simply expected to do as I was told. My destiny lay in my parents hands and, naturally, that made me skittish. Ibit my nails, sat on the edges of chairs, spoke fast, leapt up steps two at a time. Iwas perturbed not only by the robbery of my right to choose, but by the fact that I didnt share my parents vision. How could I let someone else decide my future? An arranged marriage! The very idea was unhinged. What would it be like to have sex with a stranger? What if we didnt get along? I wouldnt be forced into a marriage, they insisted. If I didnt feel comfortable, I was free to say no. Iwondered how many times I could say no. Icould say no to the first boy they introduced me to, maybe even the second one. But beyond that I had to start providing reasons. Could I say no forever? And if I did, would there be adverse consequences? I had many other unanswered questions, mostly prompted by news reports about girls from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds the daughters of first-generation migrants running away from home to avoid an arranged marriage. There were stories of girls being locked up by their parents, even beaten if their behaviour harmed or threatened family honour. Sometimes they were taken to India or Pakistan to marry or to be de-Westernised. Then there were the heart-stopping stories of honour killings fathers, uncles, and brothers who killed, or played some part in murdering, daughters, nieces and sisters who brought shame on
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Es ca pe Pl a n

the family. Im not talking about honour killings in India. Im talking about honour killings in Britain in the 1980s. Indeed, they are still happening today. I never feared that anything like that might happen to me. My parents were as horrified by honour killings as any rightthinking person would be. But I was never sure how far they would go topersuade me to follow Indian tradition. Ifeared my fate. What if I turned my back on the arranged-marriage system? What repercussions would I suffer? What repercussions might my parents suffer at the hands of the Indian community? Brutal treatment of Indian and Pakistani girls who stepped out of line was the backdrop to my youth. It was a terrifying reality that seeped into our house through rumours in the Indian community and through the mainstream news. And there was no escaping those headlines because ours was a household bombarded by newspapers, radio news broadcasts and TV news bulletins. The ease with which I was able to produce half-baked plans and harebrained schemes to get out of my bind were alarming, even to me. If running away didnt work out, perhaps I could, somehow, become famous. Nothing like the glare of the public spotlight to inoculate a person from parental pressure. Or maybe I could quietly but definitively repulse potential husbands so that they always rejected me, until Mum and Dad, in exasperation, would finally allow me to pick my own husband. Unfortunately, such schemes lacked even a grain of realism, and I knew it. In search of a way out, I prowled the undergrowth of fantasy before turning to the wide-open plains of reality, where it was evident that a career might fulfill the dual function of income generation (and therefore financial independence) and an escape route. But which career?
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DERANGED MARRIAGE

Dad was a news junkie who didnt know when to stop. The BBC World Service was his friend. The Lilliburlero theme music, now seared onto an ancient part of my brain, never seemed to be more than fifty-nine minutes away. Then there was the days newspaper, stuffed into the letterbox or brought home in Dads briefcase at the end of the day. He was a man who took The Times, but later moved to the Guardian. Occasionally hed buy other newspapers, but never the tabloids. He would clip articles he deemed important or particularly enlightening and file them in one of his many collections of cuttings. Sometimes he clipped articles that he thought I ought to read for my intellectual nourishment. He would leave them on the dining table or by the phone, or any place he thought my eye might inadvertently fall upon them. There was no avoiding those headlines: Shocking Truth about Youth; Lazy Lifestyle of Teenage Girls Exposed; Teachers Warn against Late Nights; Broccoli: the New Super Food. If Vin or I ever picked up the newspaper, it would be to check the TV listings on the back page. Why dont you read the front page? Dad often said. Thats the page most people read first. You might learn something. He wanted us to be intelligent girls, not dithering ninnies, which he feared we might become without his constant guidance. Every evening he watched the BBC News at nine oclock. Chattering, giggling and smirking were prohibited during the broadcast. Anyone who wanted to talk or laugh was sent out of the room. Even Mum was ordered out once. Things got unbearable if the newscaster ever mentioned the bloody war in Northern Ireland, which he did virtually every night. Without fail, the word bloody would induce uncontrollable laughter from me and Vin,
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Es ca pe Pl a n

and we would be marched out of the room immediately. Dad was never more angry than when his nightly news was ruined by our frivolous twittering. The BBCs foreign correspondents Kate Adie and John Simpson seemed to be on the news every night. Iwould dream of wearing a khaki flak jacket, standing in front of a tank delivering news reports from strife-torn regions with an urgent, authoritative yet compassionate tone of voice. Reporters with scruff y hair wearing a safari suit or hunters jacket with epaulettes excited me. Ithought the BBC must have an endless supply of those jackets, and I wanted one. It was the romance of journalism that attracted me. After all, I was unaware of what the job actually entailed a bit like girls who wanted to become glamorous air hostesses, unaware that the job actually meant being a dehydrated servant in the sky to irritable travellers. In truth, I didnt read the front page of newspapers not because I was uninterested in the news, but because the world was complicated and I didnt always understand the news. Nonetheless, I wanted to be part of the adventure of gathering it. Iwas in love with the idea of being a journalist, not in love with the news itself. Dad took journalists seriously but it was not a role he wanted for his own daughters. Its a mans job. Look at him, he said pointing to John Simpson on the TV. He used to be a young man. How quickly he has aged. It is a hard job, unsuited to women. You will never be settled in one place, it will be difficult to have a family life, and I dont think they get much money. I suppose I will never know whether my desire to be a journalist was a result of my early exposure to newspaper clippings, or whether a growing feeling of being an outsider to my parents culture drew
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DERANGED MARRIAGE

me to a vocation built on scepticism and inquiry. Iwas inflamed by injustice, and there was so much injustice that people didnt know about. Indian girls in Britain couldnt even choose who they could marry. Did anyone out there know about that? There was a veneer of choice, but when you lifted the veil, there was, I thought, repression underneath. By the time my teenage confusion ripened into indignation, I was sure I wanted to be a journalist because I felt an urgent desire to tell people things they didnt know. But Dad had other plans. I wouldnt be allowed to choose my own husband and I shouldnt pursue the career I wanted. What injustice. Ifelt a profound uneasiness, a creeping anxiety that all my problems stemmed from being a brown girl in a white world. Everywhere there were currents pushing me this way and that and I was muddled. Iheard the untroubled laughter of my friends, their free and easy manner; I saw people kiss with open lips on TV; I heard the Sex Pistols tell the Queen she aint no human being; and I watched Kate Adie make it in a mans world. Iwas lifted by Jerusalem at the end of term, the way my teachers sang full-throated; I saw the gleam on my prefects badge, the placards on the streets, and the world at Heathrow. Iwanted to tell people everything was not okay. Iwanted everyone to be as indignant as I was and for women to have everything men did. I wanted to speak freely, to question the world, to mock the prevailing orthodoxy. Ihankered for it all.

Nearly four years later my suitcase was still under the bed. When I packed it, and for a long time afterwards, I believed I might
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Es ca pe Pl a n

one day get the hell out. But when the time came it was always raining, or there was homework to be handed in. Once, I had everything sorted: coat on, money for the bus, suitcase out from under the bed. Heart galloping, I was about to go down the stairs when Mum and Dad came back early from Tesco after doing the weeks shopping. Iheard the key in the lock and had to rush into the bedroom and put the suitcase back in its hiding place. Vin wanted to know why I had my coat on, but I told her to mind her own business. I never told her about my plan for two reasons. First, she would almost certainly have thought it an irrational idea and tried to dissuade me; and second, her knowledge of it would have made her an unwitting accomplice. Mum and Dad would have questioned her after I was found missing. She would be scolded for failing to stop me, or for not telling them of my plan, and I couldnt let that happen. I was eighteen years old now, well past the age my departure would be classified as running away. At eighteen I could legally walk out of the house and never return. But in fact I couldnt leave, not only because there was nowhere to go, but because Ilacked the courage. Besides, an unmarried Indian girl leaving her parents house without permission would have brought great shame on my family. Still, I kept that suitcase packed, hidden and at the ready because it was possible that one day I might do something that would force Mum and Dad to disown me and if they threw me out of the house, at least Id have my things ready. Ijust didnt know what that something might be. I was living in a state of low-level panic by now. Mum and Dad had stepped up their search for a suitable boy. They were making phone calls and asking friends and family if they knew
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DERANGED MARRIAGE

any boys of marriageable age. The hunt for marriage material was on and I had no say in the matter.

Girls. They are an economic liability for Indian parents. They cost money to raise. They can trash a familys reputation with the power of immodesty. They need a dowry when you marry them off, and what do you get in return? Nothing but worry and misery. Boys, on the other hand, are productive economic units. As men, they earn a salary, bring home a wife, scoop up a dowry and act as the welfare state for elderly parents. Who wouldnt crave sons? Luckily, we had a son in our family. My brothers birth brought not only joy, but relief. Mum had carried and brought safely into the world that most precious of cargos. She was no longer just a mother of daughters, she was the mother of a son. The only thing better would have been to be the mother of several sons, but Mum was grateful for just one. Vin and I were pleased to have someone else to play with. We remained, in our youth, totally ignorant of the meaning of a brother. In manhood, he would be the carer of his parents and the protector of his sisters a notion that satisfied my parents profoundly. Mum in particular felt she had been rewarded by a higher authority and she was able to extend her deepest sympathy to any woman god neglected. Mum had a friend an Indian woman with seven daughters. Yes, seven. People were always kind to her. An epic tragedy had befallen her house. A misfortune for every day of the week. What
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Es ca pe Pl a n

was the poor woman to do? You couldnt accuse her of not trying to have a son. Look where that had got her. But the woman was remarkably sanguine. Always smiling and confident that things would turn out well in the end. The kind of person who would start a crossword puzzle with a pen. Her beautiful girls graced our house when they visited. Seven sylphs with intelligent, mouse eyes, swan necks and confident smiles. All seven together could turn a room into an oil painting. But its hard for Indians to see seven girls and not also see the shadows of seven dowries, seven opportunities for the familys honour to be sullied, seven burdens. When Mums friend fell pregnant for the eighth time, everyone prayed for her, including my mum. A son, please bestow her with a son. When she gave birth to twin boys, it was as if the heavens had opened up, sending forth great rivers of rain after seven hundred years of drought. There were tears of joy, elated hearts and sweet, sweet relief. Not one, but two boys. Sons at last, sons at last, thank god almighty, we have sons at last. Life for Indian boys is different. Right from the day of their birth, which, by the way, is celebrated with a great deal more gusto than a girls, things are easier. Parents are much more reverential towards their sons after all, they are the ones who look after them in their old age (or, more accurately, it is daughters-inlaw who will look after a boys parents in their old age). More importantly, boys sexuality is nothing to fear (unless theyre gay that would no doubt be considered a calamity). They cant fall pregnant out of wedlock and bring shame on their families as a daughter can. Yes, they can bring shame through acts of criminality or gambling or drinking, but shame through sexual immorality, the really serious kind of shame, is a disgrace
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DERANGED MARRIAGE

that only women can bring crashing down on their family. All things considered, boys are best.

But sometimes even my brother Raja was no consolation for my mums deep frustrations with my failings. Youre too tall, she often complained, as if I was deliberately growing beyond the stipulated height for an obedient Indian girl. We have to find a boy taller than you. Her concern with my height was dwarfed by her alarm over the size of my bust, the correct size presumably being a pair of plump mangoes. I didnt make the grade. When a marriage is being arranged by an Indian mother, a defective daughter can be a big problem, or, in this case, two small problems. A girl with no breasts. Two aspirins on an ironing board. Damaged goods. I was ordered to visit the doctor to find out what was wrong with me. Dr Hall, who was shorter than the average man, told me I was not alone lots of girls wished they had bigger boobs. I wish I was a couple of inches taller, he added pointlessly. When I told him I was quite comfortable with my lighter than average load and that it was Mum who felt burdened with my deficiency, he kindly offered to talk to her. That evening he called her. Ilistened from the top of the stairs. Yes, doctor, yes, doctor. Yes, thank you, doctor, I heard her say before she hung up and made her way slowly up the stairs. That was the Dr Hall calling on the phone, she said in her wonky English, sitting heavily on my bed with a disappointed sigh.
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Es ca pe Pl a n

I waited for the verdict. He was drunk. What! Yes, she replied. He say you are healthy, attractive girl. He say nothing wrong with you. Definitely drunk. Some months after the drunk-doctor incident, she was sitting on the edge of my bed again, crying: Its my fault, its all my fault, she sobbed, nodding in the direction of my chest. In India, when I discovered I was pregnant with you, I went to see a special doctor, she continued in Punjabi. I asked him to make you a boy. So he gave me some herbs. What! You went to see a witch doctor? I took the herbs, she continued. But when you were born, you were a girl and I just assumed the herbs hadnt worked. But now that youre older and things havent grown properly, I see that the herbs only half worked. She burst into a fresh round of sobbing. Iwas at a loss to know how to console her, a task made harder by the anger ballooning in my flat chest. Not anger with her nave and superstitious belief that when she was pregnant, the child she was carrying could be turned into a boy with a magical potion. Not anger with her instinctive maternal drive to blame herself for something she should have known was clearly beyond her control. But anger with myself for having the misfortune to be born into an Indian family coming to grips with raising daughters in Britain. In such moments, I could see before me a chasm of communication between me and my parents. Their Eastern expectations. My Western desires. Any thoughts beyond that were rendered shapeless by immaturity and simply fell off the cliff into a sea of self-loathing.
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